Photography by Azul Sordo.

Patrice Lane became principal of Geneva Heights Elementary School in the middle of a campus reconstruction project. 

Geneva Heights students will begin the upcoming school year at the former Jill Stone Elementary while their new campus is under construction. When the school opens, it will have upgraded play areas, outdoor learning spaces and gardens, while maintaining the original 1931 building. The total budget for the redesign is about $31 million, paid for with 2020 bond funds.

“I have learned that they are invested in this, they put time, they put resources into making the school a place for their children,” she says. 

Lane had previously been an assistant principal at Anne Frank Elementary School in Far North Dallas, where she had a hand in everything from cafeteria operations to transportation to bilingual education. 

“The fact that I came prepared for the job in one sense, has really helped give me time to say, ‘OK, this is something new. I’ve never gone through bond with this community,’” she says.

Lane, who’s originally from Arlington, was inspired by many great teachers growing up and her mother, who had a degree in education, to pursue a similar career. She received a degree from Alabama State University in elementary education. 

“Once that was over, then my heart led back to the school to what I loved about being an educator, and that is overall, just the school environment, teaching and learning,” she says. “That’s my thing.”

She took a job at Dallas ISD, teaching sixth grade at John W. Runyon in Pleasant Grove. That’s where she was introduced to what was then the ESL program, then taught at Frank Guzick Elementary School. 

Lane had to become certified to teach in Texas, and afterward, pursued a master’s degree at SMU. With that, she earned a bilingual certification.  

“It was a challenge, but it was a challenge that I needed. I enjoyed the learning process. I had some great professors at SMU that really made sure we understood second-language acquisition and that we understood basic teaching principles, understanding our community and the needs and the diversity,” she says.

Her education sparked an interest in programming and its application, and that led to six years training and developing teachers and administrators on second-language acquisition, state and federal requirements and how classroom learning affects local communities. She visited campuses to instruct and support teachers and spoke at conferences. 

Lane earned her principal certification because she wanted to work closely with staff members at the campus level. For a year, she studied under a principal, learning administrative roles. After that, she became a campus coach and an assistant principal at Anne Frank Elementary. 

When she first came on as principal at Geneva Heights, Lane says she was nervous. But the parents, students and staff were welcoming and friendly. The new school was about half the size of Anne Frank, and Lane had to adjust her way of thinking about systems, such as the way carpool functions. 

“Being a servant leader, equity is a huge thing for me. And just being able to get and give feedback is huge to me as well,” she says. “And understanding that my role is to serve the community to provide the best environment to ultimately have an increase in academic achievement — that’s the No. 1 thing.” 

As principal, Lane starts her day at Geneva Heights around 7:15 a.m. She walks around the building, checks in with staff and heads to the front of the building to greet parents and students. In the highly anticipated morning announcements, she gives shoutouts to classes or groups of students who are showing excellence, whether it be academic or in another area. She blocks out time to spend in classrooms, and has regular meetings with district leadership, the PTA president and others. 

“I’m really happy to be here, to be able to serve this community because I see what they want,” she says. “I see what they really want for their school, and I’m just happy to be a part of that group.”